Launched in 2013, the Green Infrastructure and Biodiversity Plan 2020 provides a good illustration of this cross-party support: ordered by a left-leaning government, the Plan was launched by a conservative-led local administration. The Plan identifies a wide range of actions to bring nature into the city with the long-term vision that this will ultimately bring environmental and social benefits for local people.
The Plan has had a significant impact on greenspace management and maintenance. The Parks and Gardens Department has introduced a “naturalisation” programme designed to ensure existing green public assets achieve a more complex vegetable structure that promote natural processes and the natural entry of flora and fauna thus optimising ecosystem services. Practical examples include the planting of trees surrounds with companion herbaceous species hosting beneficial insects to control the pests and diseases that affect street trees. Following a government ban, glyphosate is no longer used to control weeds and the use of other forms of chemical herbicides has been significantly cut down. About 60% of the City’s green spaces are now subject to ecological management regimes involving selective mowing and an increased presence of flowering Mediterranean meadows instead of water-and nutrients-hungry lawns.
Succeeding in shifting approaches to green space management and maintenance on such a wide scale required changing public perception of what constitutes good gardening. A close collaboration with the City’s Communication services helped the Parks and Greenspace Department develop an educational campaign focused on public health (rather than biodiversity) benefits, which proved much more effective at winning the hearts and minds of Barcelona’s residents. As Gabino Carballo explains: “The argument that really worked with people was health: reducing the use of potentially harmful chemicals to manage weeds or pests and diseases was pitched in terms of improving residents’ and gardeners’ wellbeing”.
The Green Infrastructure and Biodiversity Plan 2020 has also proven a powerful vehicle to enhance cross-departmental coordination: “We didn’t know how to work with architects, urbanists, engineers… Many group sessions were held to discuss and explain the ambitions of the plan, and this has made a big difference. Now it is possible to work together”. This knowledge sharing effort has helped improve green infrastructure provision within private development projects. The release of a guide on Good Gardening Practices in Barcelona: Conserving and enhancing Biodiversity proved a useful tool for this. The guide is divided into different chapters identifying both species and management practices that can be used to better support biodiversity and deliver a wider range of ecosystems services in different contexts. Each of the City’s 500 in-house gardeners that tend the public green spaces and parks received a paperback copy. The City of Barcelona’s plant procurement contracts were also reviewed and updated in order to increase the share of species that were identified in the guide.